Call it the curse of the backup goaltender. Or rustiness from the bye week. Or an inability to beat divisional opponents this season. Or the Colorado Avalanche always seeming to have the Dallas Stars’ number lately.
Whatever you call it, the loss by the Stars tonight was most definitely not the way in which their fans (and likely Stars coaches and players) envisioned starting off the stretch run to the playoffs after the CBA-mandated break.
If the Stars hope to get into the postseason, they’re going to have to figure out a way to beat those Central Division teams that are trailing them in the standings today. While they may not sacrifice their positioning now, those points could be crucial at the end of the season, and a game like tonight will be one in which everyone will point and say “well what about this time the job didn’t get done?”
Before heading into the break, head coach Ken Hitchcock talked about winning close games, those where the score might be 1-0 or 2-1, as the intensity of games reach playoff levels as teams battle for the postseason. Tonight, the Stars didn’t figure out a way to do that.
I guess they’re still a work in progress in that regard.
The game started off with a bit more pace than I probably expected given that both teams haven’t played in a week. However, as the period went along you could tell that guys were still trying to shake off the rust a bit and catch back up to game speed. Passes were often just a little off (the bounciness of the puck didn’t help, either – the Dallas Mavericks played a game in the American Airlines Center earlier today.)
The only scoring that occurred in the period was from a very good individual effort by Colorado Avalanche rookie Alexander Kerfoot. He scored off a shot he let off as he was diving to the ground. The puck caught Ben Bishop as he was sliding across his net.
Dallas did not put up much in the way of dangerous scoring chances in the period, even though they had a power play chance in the frame. Give the Avalanche much credit for that, as they seemed to suffocate the shooting lanes and passing lanes of Dallas effectively.
This frame was more what I expected in the first period, with guys looking slow and not moving their feet a lot. It was obvious for much of the period that the teams had not skated in a few days. The energy on the ice felt zapped, and the atmosphere in the building started to follow suit.
Then came the crazy goal-no-goal play.
Bishop went behind his net to play the puck, and an Avalanche player pushed him down, causing him to lose his balance and fall in an awkward way. That left the net wide open for Colorado to shoot into, and it seemed they were going to take a 2-0 lead. In a game in which it felt that the Stars would struggle to score one goal, that could have proven to be a big momentum changer.
However, the Stars challenged the goal on the basis of goaltender interference. After all, that much contact with Bishop most definitely meant that he could not get back to his net and therefore make a save on the shot. After a very long call with Toronto, the referees concluded that there was “significant contact” with the goaltender, and waived the goal off.
The Stars were able to take that call that went in their favor and turn the game around a bit. Eventually, the Stars’ top guns tied the game up. Alexander Radulov made a deft drop-pass to John Klingberg, who was once again left with a lot of space to work with by a team too busy trying to cover all the other possible shooters on the ice, and he shot the puck in on Jonathan Bernier. Jamie Benn was right next to Bernier’s left pad and was able to take the puck that was left there and pot home the tying goal.
Colorado pulled a “Dallas special” move at the end of the second period, giving the Stars nearly a full two minute power play to start the third period on. Dallas took about four quality chances in tight on Bernier, but he was solid in the Colorado net.
He had to be. After all, the game was going to be decided on who could win the last 20 minutes of play tonight.
Patrik Nemeth, who took the late penalty in the second period, threw the puck over the glass almost immediately after that penalty had expired, giving the Stars another crack at the power play. Again, the Stars’ top power play unit had some very good looks on Bernier. But he was living right and the Avalanche managed to keep the game tied after a choppy start for them.
Colorado took that “bend-don’t-break” moment of the game and, with patience, put themselves back ahead off of a soft goal by Bishop. Nathan MacKinnon, who granted has been on a hot streak of scoring for the Avalanche, shot the puck on Bishop from a decent distance (beyond the faceoff circles) and it slipped right through Bishop’s fivehole.
It felt a little deflating after the quality chances the Stars had put together early in the period but couldn’t cash in on.
Dallas wasn’t ever really able to get back into the game after that goal. The top line did spend some time in the offensive zone and had a couple of chances, but the Avalanche shut it down pretty good for the most part. Colorado would tack on a third goal with less than two minutes left, one that beat Bishop right over his should in the corner.
The frustration of the game to that point boiled over for the Stars with about 1:16 left in the game when Martin Hanzal and his line had a nice little dustup with the Avalanche line on the ice. Somehow the Stars came out of it with a power play, but Bernier was more than up to the task of keeping the score as it was and sending the Stars off home ice with just their sixth regulation loss.